Buddhist malfeasance: 3 years of hard labor in Myanmar for man who pulled the plug on speaker emitting loud Buddhist chants

October 7, 2016 • 8:30 am

Buddhism is always the religion held up as an exception to the bellicosity and oppressive nature of religion in general, and while that may be true, Buddhism by no means has a spotless history. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), for example, Buddhists have engaged in wholesale killing and displacement of the Muslim Rohingya. Such persecution also happens in Sri Lanka, and I’ve sometimes reported arrests for hurting Buddhist sentiments, as in the case of three people jailed for wearing an ad for a disco depicting Buddha wearing headphones.

Buddhists, then, occasionally play the “offense card,” and it’s pretty dire when they do. The latest incident, reported in yesterday’s New York Times, involves Klaas Haijtema, a 30-year-old Dutch tourist who, while visiting Myanmar, was staying at a Mandalay hostel near a Buddhist center. On the night of September 23, the center began broadcasting Buddhist chants over a loudspeaker, disturbing Haijtema’s sleep.

After asking the Buddhists to lower the volume (they probably didn’t understand him), he then pulled the plug on the amplifier. BIG mistake. He was arrested and sentenced to—get this—three years at hard labor for “causing a disturbance to an assembly engaged in religious worship.”

 As the NYT reports:

Mr. Haijtema wept after the prison sentence was announced. He was also fined the equivalent of $80 for violating the terms of his entry visa, which require visitors to obey Myanmar’s laws and customs. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and Mandalay is a relatively conservative city.

Haijtema in custody. Photo: Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

There are reports, however, that the Buddhist center was itself violating the law by broadcasting over a loudspeaker without a permit. Perhaps Haijtema won’t have to break rocks for three years after all.

h/t: Florian

44 thoughts on “Buddhist malfeasance: 3 years of hard labor in Myanmar for man who pulled the plug on speaker emitting loud Buddhist chants

  1. Other have mentioned it as well, but Dutch news reported 3 months, not years. Still too much. Also, according to Dutch news, he wasn’t the only one bothered by the loud noise, other guests in the hotel were as well.

    1. Addition: because he also immediately paid the fine, it seems that hard labor is not involved (source: Dutch news).

  2. I used to admire Buddhism a lot. Then these folks started putting down the Rohingya. And Buddhists in Sri Lanka were already taking after the Tamils.

    Nope, no good religion.

    1. You can find misdeeds of Buddhism in ancient history.

      Japan has a definite history of inappropriate church-state entanglements during its medieval period, and classical Buddhism does not treat women especially well.

      Broadly, Buddhism has the cleanest record re supporting militaristic ventures like the Christian Crusades and there are no crimes against Buddhism that sanction execution- burning at the stake or otherwise. But it’s still a fairly human religion.

      Western liberals are not that aware of Buddhism’s malfeasances but at least they don’t suppress discussion of it as they do with the malfeasance of Islam.


      I say, fine the fellow $50 for vandalism and let him go.

  3. Made me think of Pete Seeger saying he wanted to take an axe to the power cable when Dylan went electric at Newport ’65.

    Too many religious figures in the West think that these types of punishments may be excessive, but that it’s correct in principle for any derogation of religion ought to be unlawful.

  4. It could be, given the harsh sentence plus the relatively small fine, that the judge wanted to send a message and a warning, using Haijtema as a case in point. Perhaps the religion is feeling threatened so a fierce face is shown to outsiders. Hopefully, the sentence will be reduced once the maximum publicity has been garnered.

  5. If the monks of the temple understood compassion, they would have shielded him from prosecution in the first place. Upon conviction, they would petition the court that he serve the sentence at their monastery, where the “hard labor” would be joining them in the same daily chores and upkeep as the rest of them engage in…and silently suffering through the occasional sleepless night when they held a noisy ritual.

    Regardless, Buddhism is statistically much more humane than Abrahamic religions, but far from perfect. Sam Harris makes the point that different flavors of Buddhism have different traditions and, as a result, different records of violence. I forget which one, but one of them he points out as being especially pacific in both its holy texts and history. Zen, he contrasts, tends to use forceful metaphors which lend themselves to the sorts of violent interpretations as inspired the Kamikaze pilots of WWII.

    Viewed from the outside, it’s a pretty good demonstration of the cruciality of wisely choosing that by which you measure things. If your gold standard is an Abrahamic text with its blood-soaked pages, but you wish to be an humane and peaceful person…well, you’re still going to be measuring by that text and therefore coming to hurtful conclusions like opposition to gynecological care and a desire to restrict marriage benefits to those sanctioned by your text.

    But if you wish to be an humane and peaceful person, you’re not going to be restricted by unquestionable dictates of an ancient superstition; you’re instead going to measure your success by how non-violent and supportive of other people you are. And you’re going to be able to dispassionately judge those superstitions, noting which are less worng, and be able to analyze the consequences of the various texts.

    “By their fruits ye shall know them,” as a certain ancient text accidentally correctly put it.



    1. When the guys who put the pic of Buddha wearing headphones on the Internet were sentenced, Buddhist monks were sitting outside putting pressure on the judge to make an example of the men. They were the ones calling for the harshest sentence, and they made it clear there would be consequences if that didn’t happen. So unfortunately, work around the monastery was unlikely to have ever been an option.

      1. I’ve never seen that! Thanks for the link. The first version I heard was done by The Clash. This version is better.

    1. “Offense to religion” aka “blasphemy” charge was dropped but the guy was found guilty of “disruption of religious ceremony”, in this case, pre-Sabbath proceeding, by the court and sentenced for 3 months.

      The original initiator (complaint) of persecution (a member of congregation that day) sympathize with the man and prefer to withdraw the charge but she cannot for this is a criminal case and persecutor is the state not the individual.

  6. Still, I think if one is visiting another country, one is a guest and should behave with circumspicion. Pulling out plugs is not the bright nor right thing to do.
    That being said, the prison sentence, be it three years or months, is not in order.
    At least they did not behead him (sarcasm).

      1. True too.
        But if a, say, Saudi tourist pulled a plug or -to take something *we* might strongly object to- groped the waitress?

        1. There is an important difference between those two crimes. Disrespecting a religion and physical groping are not simply variations on things-objected-to. One is a real physical offense against a person. The other isn’t a physical act… his offense was not pulling the plug, it was causing offense to worshippers. In my book, nobody has a right not to be offended. They do have a right to not be groped by customers.

          I don’t dispute that pulling a plug like that was not a very polite thing to do. But charging him with a crime is a much less polite action.

  7. As I said in the Mormon thread, every religion has its fundies. (As does atheism, there were plenty of examples of that in Russia).

    IMO authoritarianism is the real universal enemy, and it pokes its ugly head up all over. In the case of Buddhism, it’s Myanmar – the Saudi Arabia of Buddhism.


    1. How can atheists be “fundies”? We don’t have a sacred book from which all of our “beliefs” come from. We can’t be fundamentalists because there’s nothing to be fundamentalist about. If we are to label obnoxious atheists somehow, that would be a better label: obnoxious, dogmatic, inflexible…

      1. Okay, define it how you like. People who insist on applying [their interpretation of] the rules rigidly in every situation. Authoritarians.

        When I’m dictator of the world they will be ruthlessly stamped out.


  8. Burma’s Buddhists seem to really hate and oppress the Rohingya – although there are allusions on Wikipedia to some Rohingya having first settled there in the 16th C. Some also were brought in from Bengal by the British in 20th as the Buddhists were more anti British. According to London post
    “The root cause of this animosity lies in the successive invasions by British and Muslims of Burma. The Rakhine identity was built upon Muslims Kingdoms to the West and Burman (Buddhists) Kingdoms to the East. In World War II, the Buddhist sided with Japanese forces, while Muslims sided British. The history unfolded to Burmese about the forced conversions of Buddhists under the Mughal rule which developed anti- Muslims sentiments.”http://thelondonpost.net/2015/06/burmas-burning-rohingyas-crisis/ Also the Brit colonisers and foreigners (Hindus, Chinese, Muslims) controlled capital and resources – and after independence the majority Burmese kicked many of them out to regain control of the economy. However Myanmar itself is very ethnically diverse. Citizenship in Myanmar conflated with the idea of being a national race, and the Rohingya don’t fit this so they are effectively rendered stateless. Some other groups are in the same boat but they are not persecuted to the same degree (at least now) and certainly not by local people. Democracy seems to have unleashed anti Muslim sentiment from Buddhist Burmans and other Buddhists.

    Moreover several Buddhist priests, but especially Ashin Wiratu, have been inciting the Buddhist Rakhine to harrass and attack the Rohingya who are in a desperate state.
    Elsewhere I read that Wiratu was imprisoned by the military regime before Aung San was released but he has been free a few years now and seems to be a useful diversion of public discontent away from the regime. The article seems to be calling for military intervention. The Chinese are very friendly with the Myanmar govt and are buying up areas of the north in a big way, adding to tensions. http://www.myanmar-now.org/news/i/?id=635fae18-8da4-4fe2-9a69-d395f99e546c

    However another site (especially several articles in the Independent, some sourced from a Human rights watch report) indicates oppression of the Rohingyas is so bad that it may be leading to outright genocide in the Holocaust sense – they are confined to squalid camps, starved of resources medical care and legal rights, preyed on by traffickers when they flee and attacked by locals with little (or no) protection from the state. Also http://www.smh.com.au/comment/myanmars-aung-san-suu-kyi-facing-ethnic-cleansing-coverup-20160127-gmf0wu.html
    The State refuses to recognise them as a separate people and Aung San Suu Kyi goes along with that. Her father was one of the leaders of the anti Muslim and anti British Burmese for Burmans movement as well as for independence generally. She had a hostile interview with a Muslim reporter on the BBC a couple of years ago.

    1. But of course it is not only Buddhists or members of other religions who behave like this. One might look at the enlightened West’s obsessions with refugees and the treatment of these refugees, the unlovely sentiments that Brexit & Drumpf embody, the dismissal of the claims of indigenous peoples (‘A protest of a four-state, $3.8 billion oil pipeline turned violent Saturday after tribal officials say construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land in southern North Dakota.’) or, say, at Australia’s policies:

      ‘Australia has been forcibly transferring families with children, unaccompanied children, and single men and women to Nauru since September 2012, under Memorandums of Understanding between the two countries. Australia agreed to cover all costs associated with the offshore detention and processing of the asylum seekers and refugees. The Australian government spent 415 million Australian dollars (US$314 million) on its Nauru operations in the fiscal year ending on April 30, 2015, nearly $350,000 for each person held on the island in that year alone.

      ‘Those transferred to Nauru initially spent a year or more housed in cramped vinyl tents in a detention facility called the “Regional Processing Centre” (RPC), with temperatures indoors regularly reaching 45 to 50 degrees Celsius (113 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit), and torrential rains and flooding.

      ‘Refugees and asylum seekers described conditions in these detention camps as “prison-like,” with regular searches of their tents by the guards, confiscation of “prohibited” items – including food and sewing needles – two-minute showers, and filthy toilets.

      ‘The RPC is run by a private company hired by the Australian government, which has effective control of the facility and is responsible for ensuring the health and welfare of the asylum seekers detained there. Australia shares responsibility with Nauru for human rights violations committed against the refugees and asylum seekers.

      ‘Those the Australian and Nauru governments recognize as refugees are generally provided accommodation in open camps or other housing throughout the island. Families are generally assigned prefabricated units or converted containers, and single men are placed in rooms with space only for a bed and a small shelf. About one-third of the 1,200 refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru remain in the tents, people interviewed said…’

      Or one might look at the photographs in the great Brazilian photographer Sebastiåo Salgado’s book ‘Migrations’. They help one realise how selective one’s pity and anger are. Much of the time, alas, we don’t give a damn, unless we have an excuse such as a doubtless justified dislike of religion to hang it on.

  9. I agree with Karl Marx when he said that religion is the opium offre the People ! Even the Dalai Lama is ambiguous. I think humanity will have to get rid of all religions and superstitions to be emancipated from obscurantism. Sincerely Yours. Daniel ZIMMERLIN

    Le 7 oct. 2016 3:30 PM, “Why Evolution Is True” a écrit :

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Buddhism is always the religion held up as an > exception to the bellicosity and oppressive nature of religion in general, > and while that may be true, Buddhism by no means has a spotless history. In > Myanmar (formerly Burma), for example, Buddhists have enga” >

  10. Buddhism is barbarism historically you can see it the history of Mongolian brutality and killing to the innocent people around the world.
    In Burma’s history , the Nazi and racist Burman has killed over 100,000 Rohingya people in 1942 again they have killed around 25,000 Rohingya in 3 June 2012 by the supporting of Mogh terrorist group and state massacre much more .

    1. It really is a competition, isn’t it, as to who is worse? Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the Yamomani or other ‘primitive’ tribes who are supposedly more susceptible to evolutionary pressures than we are, Communists, Nazis, those economists who, in Karl Polanyi’s words, ‘steel themselves with science’ in order to justify suffering, imperialists (the British in India or Kenya, among other places), the perpetrators of the Indonesian massacres (with American & British convince) under Suharto, Australians and their treatment of aboriginal people (see John Pilger’s film, Utopia)and refugees, Boko Haram,… the list never seems to end. Instead of indulging in this infantile competition, might it not be better to take a rest from easy moralising and take a clear-eyed look at what human beings historically have been, and are now?

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